Jazz CD Reviews

Marcus Miller – Renaissance – Concord Jazz

A significant release for jazz-funk aficionados.

Published on September 17, 2012

Marcus Miller – Renaissance – Concord Jazz

Marcus Miller – Renaissance – Concord Jazz CJA-33794-02, 72:38 [8/7/12] ***:

(Marcus Miller – Fender jazz bass with his band)

Marcus Miller has an excellent pedigree, having taken part in the 1982 Miles Davis jazz-fusion release entitled We Want Miles, as well as Tutu in 1986, and Amandla in 1989. Now some thirty years later, Marcus Miller has not lost any of those bright ideas he brought to the Davis recordings, as he continues to explore his musical thoughts with his new album Renaissance.

Backed by a cast of rotating musicians and a couple of special guests, Miller slashes through a thirteen-track session of mostly originals in the jazz-funk tradition all of which have his Fender jazz bass in the foreground. Never an easy instrument to work around, nevertheless Miller’s arrangements are well thought out to provide ample flexibility for all the players. “Detroit” starts the proceedings with a mid-tempo vibe, some tense drumming and staccato bass lines, followed by a smart solo from altoist Alex Han. Miller is adept at finding new ways to change the mood and pace on every tune and he does so with “Redemption” which is gloomy and focused, and then “February” which is a more reflective number with a thoughtful piano introduction by Federico Gonzalez Peña.

The next two tracks are really the core of this album. Starting with “Slippin’ Into Darkness” which is a cover of the 1971 classic by WAR and comes in at over nine minutes. It gives full expression to Miller’s building of loudness and softness in a musical piece. This allows the tension to develop among the players to a gratifying result. Especially effective is Sean Jones on trumpet and drummer Louis Cato who seems to know how best to utilize the full dynamics of his drum kit. Like a refreshing glass of sorbet, “Setembro” is a Brazilian confection that features a wordless vocal by special guest Gretchen Parlato as well as Ruben Blades, who offers a Spanish vocal, both of which combine to make a distinctive change of pace.

The conundrum faced by Miller is to attempt to provide sufficient variety throughout the balance of the tracks to construct a product that will hold the listener’s interest. Regrettably a Fender jazz bass does not offer the opportunity to develop musical concepts that have a melodic line that will have broad acceptance. Now while there are some tracks that have descriptive developments, much of it sounds the same. The exceptions are “CEE-TEE-EYE” which is an homage to Creed Taylor’s jazz–funk label CTI and which grows on the listener. Also the Janelle Monäe tune entitled “Tightrope,” with a sneaky vocal by Dr. John, is hummable in its own Southern way.

For the true aficionados of the jazz-funk genre, this album will be a significant release. However for a broader-based jazz audience, not so much.

TrackList: Detroit; Redemption; February; Slippin’ Into Darkness; Setembro ( Brazilian Wedding Song); Jekyll & Hyde; Interlude: Nocturnal Mist; Revelation; Mr. Clean; Gorée; CEE-TEE-EYE; Tightrope; I’ll Be There

—Pierre Giroux




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